I would never suggest to somebody just starting out in faith that they read a book of theology. No, it is much more important for those who are young in faith to read the Bible, pray, learn from others more mature in faith, and put into practice what one is learning.
But after a person has read the Bible a time or two, he or she would perhaps be ready to explore various ways faithful people have come to understand key ideas based on passages from the Bible about important topics on faith such as the nature of God, the purpose of the Church, the way to salvation, and the end times, just to name a few.
Often the Bible says things that appear to border on being contradictory, and believers throughout the centuries have come up with ways to resolve the tension held between opposing points. Sometimes the topics have been resolved in such a way that all faithful believers have come to accept, and sometimes there are several different ways that have been accepted — which is one reason why there are many different denominations.
Studying theology for ourselves can help us better understand the Bible; help us to make choices as to what we believe, in the cases in which the Church has not come to universal agreement; and can help us better understand other believers who perhaps have interpreted those cases differently. While theology helps explain how varied the Church can be, it also allows us to accept the differences, and find unity on the greater issues that we agree on.
A theology book that I used and like is called “Renewal Theology” written by J. Rodman Williams and published in 1996. Professor Williams served on the faculty of Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, beginning in 1982. This book comes in 3 volumes. Volume 1 is on God, the World, and Redemption. Volume 2 is on Salvation, the Holy Spirit, and Christian Living. Volume 3 is on The Church, the Kingdom, and Last Things.
The book has a print edition, and it is also in electronic format for Kindle readers. Both versions are available for between $45 and $50 from Amazon.
If you are not convinced that you are that interested in studying theology, or if your money situation is tight, there is a less risky and less expensive alternative. The Christian Broadcasting Network put a series of lessons taught by Prof. Williams on the internet for use. The series follows the book pretty closely, though doesn’t go into the same depth. Nonetheless, there is a substantial amount of written material, PLUS there are audio (MP3) teachings that go with the material.
The series is part of CBN’s Living by the Book, and it falls under the heading, “Great Themes of Theology”. Here are the links:
In my opinion, a good theology book is one which endeavors to present the major doctrines and allows the reader to decide what he or she believes. Yet even good theology books expose or are biased toward the author’s own beliefs. “Renewal Theology” is a good theology book by my definition, but I should tell you in advance that J. Rodman Williams was solidly in the charismatic or Pentecostal camp, and if you know in advance that you are opposed to that particular point of view, you might be better studying a different theology book.
I have on my shelf a theology book that was recommended to me by a pastor-friend called “Systematic Theology” by Wayne Grudem, but I have not read enough of it to have an opinion myself. I also have another one that seemed highly regarded, also called “Systematic Theology”, but this one is by Thomas Oden.
Theology books tend to be very long, and because they are somewhat academic, many will find them to be boring. If you are going to study theology, pace yourself! You can get through the material, even reading a little at a time, as long as you don’t give up. In the end, you may find your faith much stronger and your knowledge of the Bible much richer.